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FSP decries questionable Kantale sugar factory deal



By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and the Professionals’ National Front (PNF) yesterday condemned the proposal to hand over the Kantale Sugar Factory and 21,000 hectares of land that belongs to it to a Singapore-based company.

FSP Education Secretary, Pubudu Jayagoda said that the land would be leased for 30 years and that it was likely that the Cabinet would approve a questionable proposal submitted by Minister of Finance, Basil Rajapaksa, on 07 February 2022.

Jayagoda said that the factory had been established in 1960 with Czechoslovakian aid.

“At that time, Czechoslovakia was a socialist country. The factory was privatised in 1993, but even then, it was closed in 1999, it was producing 16,000 tons of sugar and 3.9 mil litres of alcohol.”

In 2015, the Yahapalanaya government tried to establish a company, MG Sugars Lanka Pvt. Ltd, with a Singapore-based company, SLI Developments Pte. Ltd, as a partner. The state was to hold 51% of the shares of the company.

A shareholders’ agreement was signed between MG Sugars, the Government of Sri Lanka and SLI Developments in 2016. SLI is connected to UK-based investors Mendel Gluck, Robert Salem and Moussa Salem.

“According to this agreement, the factory and nearby land were to be given to the company. Of the 21,000 hectares that belong to the factory, sugar cane was to be grown in 14,000 hectares and 7,000 were to be given to farmers. The water for the farming was to be taken from Kalu ganga, a tributary of the Mahaweli River,” Jayagoda said.

Gluck and the Salem brothers used K.P. Nagaraja, an Indian national to establish the business. There was a dispute between the investors and Nagaraja, and that resulted in a court case.

“In August 2019, August a Singaporean arbitration court said that there was a need to change the agreement. Subsequently, in July 2020, the Director Board was changed and a new agreement presented. On 09 August 2021, the Cabinet approved the new 30-year lease agreement. Earlier, on 05 August a MoU had been signed. However, this was different from the earlier agreement,” he said.

While under the previous agreement, the factory and nearby land was to be under the new company, the 2021 agreement had proposed to hand over the entire land to the company. Instead of taking water from Kalu Ganga, the water was to be taken from the Kantale tank.

“Although the government was to own 51% of the shares, Moussa Salem was to be the Chairman of MG Sugars. Gluck was to be the CEO. Thus, SLI would run all the operations. This will also mean that farmers in the area will face water shortages because Kantale Tank is an important source of water,” the FSP Education Secretary said.

The project to revive the Kanthale Factory is expected to cost USD 300 million, but SLI will only invest USD 70 million. However, according to the agreement 85% of the profits in the first 10 years will go to SLI. 75% of the profits in the second 10 years will go to SLI.

“The government will get 51% of the profits only in the third decade. Sri Lanka will make most of the investments but will make a pittance. This is a serious issue,” he said.

Meanwhile, Eng. Kapila Renuka Perera of the PNF said that this agreement would only lead to a monopoly, which will be disastrous for Sri Lankans. He added that given that all lands will be given to MG Sugars, Sri Lankan farmers will not be benefitted.

“The agreement also allows the company to import unpurified sugar, purify it here and re-export. This will be done with virtually no oversight. Previous governments too have come into agreements that lead to monopolies, like wheat, and these only had negative impacts on us. This will also have similar results. A few people will benefit at the country’s expense,” he said.

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Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM



By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party



By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code



by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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